In these unprecedented times, people have been sharing poetry as a way to lift the public mood. Seamus Heaney’s words ‘If we can winter this one out, we can summer anywhere’ have offered solace and hope. Derek Mahon’s Everything’s going to be alright was been broadcast to the nation at the end of a news bulletin this week. President of Ireland, Michael D. Higgins has written a poem entitled Take Care to help us through this time of uncertainty. Poetry’s standing hasn’t changed, it has always been highly prized in Ireland, but it’s power to unite us and to offer comfort in times of trial has been emphasised.
Another new aspect of life at the moment is our reliance on online resources in order to interact with the outside world. UCD Library’s Irish Poetry Reading Archive on YouTube and in the UCD Digital Library allows us all to take a poetic break, via the online world, from the current reality of this outside one which, in these strange days, seems to be moving at a faster pace than ever before.
Below is a very small selection of poems from the archive showing a diversity of styles and themes. These poems are evidence that poetry can help to ground us and – coupled with the spoken introductions from their authors – they allow the listener access to the places which inspired them and to the feelings that these places evoke.
Jane Clarke’s poem Harness Room takes us to the farm where she grew up. Through a list of everyday work tools she invokes a strong sense of place and of the connections that we make between people, places and things, especially those encountered in youth.
In his poem Westering Home Bernard O’Donohue writes about the yearning for home that is awakened as he journeys through Wales to Ireland. Here borders become arbitrary and lose their power to divide one region from another.
The Irish Poetry Reading Archive is part of a project designed to create a central repository for poetry reading by Irish Poets and writers. As you can see from the videos above, the collection captures the voice of the poet as they read a selection of their work and give a brief overview of the context and circumstances that influenced the writing of each poem. There is currently a playlist of 725 videos of poets reading their work on the Special Collections YouTube channel. The poetry is preserved for future generations in the UCD Digital Library.
Another poet featured in the archive is Catherine Ann Cullen who is Poet in Residence at Poetry Ireland. Currently, she is giving a daily #poetryprompt on Twitter to help other writers kick start their own work and as a means of adding a collaborative aspect to what is otherwise solitary work. Here she is in our Special Collections Reading Room reading a beautiful love poem entitled Meeting at the Chester Beatty
In this wonderful introduction to her poem The Solace of Artemis, Paula Meehan tell us how disparate themes inspire her and conflate so that they can be tied together in a poem. This one poem manages to touch on Greek mythology, bears, the concept of memory and the importance of archives.
Irish Chair of Poetry and recent winner of the Irish Times Poetry Now award Eiléan Ní Chuillenáin also features in the archive. Here she reads a poem entitled Pygmalion’s Image. In her introduction she alludes to the gender politics of poetry in Ireland in the 1980s and how, by returning to the work of Ovid, she found her place within it.
Recently this blog post has featured posts relating to the decade of centenaries. There are several poems within the Irish Poetry Reading Archive that respond to these historical events through poetry. They are often inspired by archival documents such as letters and photographs or by ephemeral material from the time.
Nessa O Mahony’s poem Walking Stick is introduced with an explanation of the part her grandfather played in various significant historical events from World War I through to the Irish Civil War. The poem goes on to reflect on how physical objects are instilled with meaning associated with who has owned them in the past. Familial connections are maintained across time through totemic objects which go on to serve new purposes for their inheritors.
Tá a lán dánta as Gaeilge sa chartlann. Ó am go chéile léann and file an dán as Gaeilge agus ansin an t-aistriúchán Béarla. Uaireanta is ón bhfile a chum an dán a thagann an t-aistriuchán.
The Irish Poetry Reading Archive includes poems about place, politics, families, historical events, society, race, feminism, and a multitude of further themes. This collection is an ongoing project, started in 2014, created and managed by UCD Library. Bringing together the voices of Irish poets in a curated secure environment will ensure that this cultural heritage collection is preserved for future generations. Over time, the collection will become a resource of national scope and significance, serving both national and international readers and scholars with interests in Irish poetry. UCD Library is extremely grateful to the large number of poets who are featured in the Irish Poetry Reading Archive who have generously and freely given of their time to initiate the project.
Finally, Colette Bryce’s poem A Spider speaks of ‘the wall that is there but not there’. In the current context of social distancing, it does feel like we are creating a wall that is not naturally there. Poetry has the power to unite us, be it through shared emotions, a common cause or simply relatable experience. It follows then that in difficult times people turn to it for comfort and reassurance. It’s reassuring to know that other people feel the same way we do; it’s comforting to maintain a shared experience even while we are forced to remain apart. Poetry allows us that. Even in times of social isolation we need not be divided from one another.
P.S. If you like this you might also like to hear Patrick Stewart reading Shakespeare’s Sonnets.